September @ Beforest
Here’s all that transpired at Beforest the past month..
Here’s all that transpired at Beforest the past month..
Ever wondered what it would feel like to experience the magic of monsoons unfold while travelling across India? In 1987, Alexander Frater did just that as he spent two exciting months experiencing the rains and its impact on the lives, economy and the politics of Indians. While global warming may have brought about a change in the intensity and the timing of rains since then, the book still makes for excellent reading and a fascinating way to experience the mystery and magic of the Indian monsoons.
While Permaculture awareness has gained a lot of traction in recent times, there are very few books and reference material sources that are written from a tropical permaculture point of view. The good people of the tiny island of Timor-Liste produced the Tropical Permaculture Guidebook to provide practical knowledge to anyone who reads it, especially in poor, low literacy and disadvantaged communities. This 1100 page guidebook, spread over 3 volumes has over 2000 beautiful illustrations and plenty of practical strategies and techniques.
The book is available for download on a ‘Pay What You Can’ basis on
Growing up in different parts of the country, my exposure to avocados was only the one tree in my grandmother’s backyard in Coorg. The only way we consumed the fruit was to eat it as a dessert. The usual procedure was to cut it up in half, discard the seed, scoop the pulp and mix sugar using the peel as a cup. In minutes, only the peel and seed were left over.
After my grandparents moved to the city, this tradition was lost on our family, but deeply missed. For over a decade, no one in the family ate a single avocado, because buying it from the market was just not acceptable!
Then, my parents bought a piece of land outside of the then city limits of Bangalore. Even before a house was built, they planted some avocado saplings. Within a few years, 3 trees were bearing fruit – the best we had ever tasted. We made sure everyone in the neighbourhood and family enjoyed the harvest each year.
Avocados are used for smoothies, salads, dips and what not around the world. At home, we still enjoy it as a salad or a dessert.
Here’s a simple recipe for you to try too:
Ingredients for one portion salad Tomato – 1 (medium) Onion – 1 (small) Cucumber – 1 (small/half medium) Avocado – 1 (small) Salt, pepper and lemonand, lemon juice to taste
Steps: Peel avocado and deseed. Cut the flesh of fruit into cubes Cut tomato and cucumber into cubes the same size as the avocado Julian onion into thin slices Add all these ingredients and season with salt, pepper and lemon juice Mix very gently but thoroughly.
Any system in the universe needs to be governed by certain rules and regulations so that things do not descend into chaos. Be it a natural system or a man-made system like countries, we need certain kinds of rules which help us to maintain a healthy balance. For natural systems, Beforest explored permaculture and natural farming methods to be in-sync with how natural processes work and how we can align ourselves.
For the smooth running of any system in a country, the onus of forming such rules lies with the government which should ensure fair and equitable distribution among the society. One such rule is the Land Ceiling Act which applies to the quantum of land an individual or an entity can hold. The land which is deemed useful for the agriculture is very essential for maintaining the healthy food production numbers for the economy of the country. The government had come up with this act to avoid huge chunks of land being cornered by a few players. In India, there is a national as well as a state level limitation to such holdings.
It is advisable for people who are looking forward to buying land individually (or through an entity) that they should follow this rule. At Beforest, we are making sure that we adhere to the prescribed limits for member’ entities and help our communities to be compliant with the norms of the state.
Once upon a time, Saddam Hussein was the Iraqi President, Javier Perez De Cuellar the UN General Secretary and Deportivo de La Coruna, a popular Spanish football team.
Until then, ours was a ‘normal’ Middle East – Indian family of the 80’s. The men worked there and the children and women moved back home. An annual 2 month summer holiday, spent in our ‘gaon’ or ‘muluk’ as it was referred to; brought the family together. Hailing from Maharashtra’s Konkan region, this meant being in the midst of an Alphonso mango Disneyland by the Arabian Sea.
Then one August afternoon in 1990, a friend called … ‘Iraq had invaded Kuwait’.
As a teenager, I wasn’t sure how to process this, its consequences and more importantly what to tell Maa. For here was a woman, who had sacrificed an important part of a good life she had for her children and building the orchards.
After that ding dang ding … din bane hafte, hafte mahine … as we waited for updates on the evacuation.
Then one October night, the doorbell rang around 2am. My dad walked in … not like someone who had lost everything he had worked for in the last 4 decades, but as a regular 57 year old dad of the 80s would have after a long day at work. Devoid of any emotion or sense of loss or even that he was glad to have made the long journey back home. He just asked for a glass of water and went to his room.
But that’s not the story ka ‘the end’. It was the beginning of one that would go on for the next 25 years. My folks not only rebuild their lives from scratch, but also a beautiful orchard of over 700 trees and a reputation of growing some of the best mangoes in the region.
After 57 years of marriage, they now lie buried besides each other, enjoying the cool river breeze facing the respective villages of their birth, back in the Mitti they came from.
Now that I understand life better, their sheer resilience, determination and grit helps me understand people who grow food and live off the land better. … and yeah, back in the 80s, we just thought it was cool to be able to pronounce Javier Perez De Cuellar, Boutros Boutros Ghali and Deportivo De La Coruna.
… To Be Contd.
Extraordinary times require the extraordinary means. Since the last lockdown caused by Covid-19, we had been grappling to connect with our members as well as future members owing to various advisory on social distancing, We had taken all the precautions at office or meeting at other locations like we had done few coffee meet ups in Mumbai during March 2021. Still I was experiencing that voice coming through the mask is not connecting us the way we want to connect and listen to each one of you. I was in a persistent inquiry to find a way to connect with you all to move forward on the pathway we all are creating together.…and one morning when I just woke up I had my ‘Eurkea’ moment & I felt like Archimedes, a Greek mathmatician who solved the Pythagoras problem. I could see the solution to my inquiry. I could clearly see the virtual office which will help us to connect with whole of the Universe.
That morning our virtual office was ready to be used by Team Beforest with all the individual “breakout Rooms” for meeting on various agenda to serve you all. For two weeks we just tested it for impeccability, Impact of low Internet bandwidth or electricity outage or adoptability to have a seamless, convenient, and personal experience. Once we got it tested fully then we opened it for you all and started to interact . It was so mesmerizing to meet members who just visited from Singapore, Ireland, Bangalore, Hyderabad or Mumbai that too in a private breakout room without any interruption of the real world. Connected so well with many of you to know other side of you as a person. Please come and lets have a cup of coffee, virtually offcourse. Lets connect to make our partnership strong.
Too much has been written about the effects of humans on wildlife. To create an impactful and sustainable conservation effort, it is important to address the issue on many fronts. Environmentalists are working hard across the world to preserve natural habitats for wildlife big and small. But until communities get involved, the effort is against the current.
So the big question is – what would it take for communities to get involved? The answer is to take a holistic approach. The issue needs to be attacked through education, awareness, regulations and support all together. There are regulations and laws to address the issue of poachers and hunters.
But let’s take the example of innocent villages at the periphery of a forest. When big animals are threatened with the loss of habitat and prey, they often venture towards human settlements in search of food. Livestock and children are easy prey to big cats. Elephants also end up wrecking fields, roads, vehicles and houses in their way when interrupted. The obvious response from humans is to scare these animals off or attack them. Animals further retaliate or lose their lives.
Instead of fighting this tide, conservationists have now started acknowledging this issue for what it is. Humans also fear animals and need protection. When cornered, humans will employ all their might to save their own lives.
Here are three important tools to address the problem head-on:
1) A proactive alert system, informing humans of wildlife movement in their areas
2) An active information mechanism to provide medical and other assistance when humans and their farms/livestock are attacked by animals
3) An intensive, consistent and ongoing education program to sensitize people on the struggles faced by wildlife.
This is by no means a small feat. The most established organizations need years of effort, manpower and financial resources to bring this simple circle to fruition. A critical step is to bring youth into the fold of education and awareness. This will be key factor in ensuring wildlife conservation is continuous and sustainable journey for years to come.
We are constantly asked why have homes in clusters, when ‘farm houses’ are always individual and far apart. Here are some key reasons why..
POSSIBILITIES OF A COMMUNITY
In a community land of let’s say 60 acres, members would usually love to have a 5 acre lake. But where does this lake come from? Who would volunteer to give up a portion of their land towards this lake? In case of farm plots, a developer would have to first sacrifice 5 acres for a lake. And then, divide the remaining 55 acres into individual plots. But to make such a lake sustainable, it takes a lot more. A lake does not function in isolation – it needs a catchment, inflow channels, overflow channels, ecosystems etc, so all of this would need the 60 acre piece to function in unison. It is simply not possible to achieve this when each 1.5 acre behaves independently.
Now in contrast, imagine the homes are now clustered into 6 acres, i.e 10% of the property. The rest of the land can be treated as a single farm. All 54 remaining acres can be designed with the sole purpose of creating an ecosystem that encourages the water flow into a water body. This is how a natural sustainable lake becomes possible.
A HOME IS NOT JUST A HOUSE
A home doesn’t function in isolation. It needs infrastructure like access roads, water line, electric line, sewage line, recycling mechanisms, solid waste management mechanisms, broadband cabling etc. Cutting out farm plots implies spreading this infrastructure all over the landscape for each house. This is far more devastating to the landscape than it seems. Excavations to lay criss-crossing pipelines and cables would lead to altering the natural stability of the landscape. The result could be devastating. Never mind the cost of laying such infrastructure. Access paths are the other aspect. Ideally roads should be laid along contours to ensure maximum stability of a landscape. But under a compulsion of connecting every corner of the landscape, it is almost impossible to stick to this guideline, while increasing the costs dramatically. In a clustered mechanism it is possible to identify a small patch of about 10% utilisation, which lies close to an existing pathway, on moderately high ground, close to a water source, on stable ground and relatively flat. This minimises the costs of building the same 40 homes (assuming 1.5acre each) down to a fraction. To drive home the point, a 1.5 acre farm plot project would mean around close to 1.4 Km of roads and main water & sewage lines. A clustered approach compresses that to around 600m.
LET THE LAND BE
Collective or clustered planning allows us to leave the land unaltered – allowing stability that has been achieved through many decades of natural processes to be maintained. This, in our opinion is the most compelling reason to choose clustered homes. To do this, instead of fitting a landscape into the design, we should try to fit the design into the landscape. For example, instead of busting down a huge boulder feature, use them as wind blocks and find another spot for building homes. In a lot of cases, the utilisation actually improves (as shown in the picture above). Similarly, if there is a natural water channel, use it as a riparian zone – a place that will be the epicentre of your ecosystem services like water harvesting, filtration mechanisms, forest zones etc. Again, for housing, look for another place that’s high ground but sufficiently close. Remember, it takes 100 years to create 1 inch of topsoil. That alone should be enough to stop us from excavating and destabilising the soil that took millennia to get there. In the above picture notice how the old pathway, hardened by centuries of walking has been manually destabilised to build new ones! Collective implies de-risking. The Hyderabad Collective is located in Ibrahimpatnam, an area that has traditionally been seen as a dry belt and drought – prone. Talk to any landowner there and you will hear endless stories of how the wells have gone dry and the bore wells are getting deeper. Now we took this on as a challenge and again, a clustered approach helped.
On paper the area receives 650mm of annual rainfall, not too different from Hyderabad city itself that stands at 780mm. It turned out, that the rainfall itself is not the problem. The problem really is that the rain, all of it, comes in the two months of monsoon and just drains away. So our task was very straightforward. Make running water walk, and walking water stand. This translated to around 51 check dams and 1 four-acre lake in phase 1 alone. Once again, it is the cluster option that offers ample area for such essential actions.
Mumbai collective also was a victim to the movement paralysis of the covid second wave. With most of our team based out of Hyderabad and Bangalore, we could not help but slow down on this. However, like in the case of Balur, we have picked up the reins again and are moving faster than ever in terms of conversations with prospective leads. Mumbai offers the unique opportunity to be a part of a sustainable farm within 80km of the mega city. We offer options of 2 acres and 5 acres of undivided ownership. The interest has been great and conversations very meaningful. With the availability of broadband and 4G networks, and work from home becoming the norm, this new paradigm of living is the flavour of the season. We are planning a 100 acre collective focused on sustainable planning and permaculture principles blending together traditional wisdom with modern studies.
As a place that receives 100 inches of rainfall, this landscape is very similar to Balur (except a little warmer). We are open for the seed community and are looking for our first 15 members.
With Karnataka in lockdown since April 25 all the way to July, we were pretty stuck on this front and we have to admit we dropped the ball here. However, with renewed vigour we have taken this up again to close the seed community for Balur and reach out to all the folks who had expressed interest in this unique project. To refresh you folks, Balur is the oldest coffee estate in the country and is also the largest only arabica coffee estate in India. This is a unique chance at owning this legacy and what is even more important, preserving it. We are looking for an exclusive set of 46 members who would together own the entire estate of 372 acres. We are really thrilled about this project. Currently, we are having close to a 100 conversations for the first 12 members who would form the seed community. If you have thought of owning a home in the hills then we definitely cannot think of a better blend of life in the hills and modern amenities than Balur Estate. So do reach out. to monitoring the impact to the place. Our efforts have thus paid off with the species richness index going up significantly in the plantation areas. We are extremely proud of this and would love your feedback on the same.
The western ghats have always held a special place in our hearts. After the success of Poomaale Collective, we have floated the idea of Poomaale 2.0, a new collective in the vicinity of Poomaale Estate of a similar size. We have identified a couple of neighboring estates that fit the bill for us and the response to this new collective has also been tremendous. We are almost through with the seed community. So once again, if you didn’t have the bandwidth to take a call on the first one, then do reach out to us now.